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Mainstream cruise lines like to tout their vacations as "all-inclusive," but with so many added fees for optional items -- massages, fruity cocktails, souvenir photos -- it’s tough to determine just what’s included in your fare. Even more confusing are items that are sometimes "free" (covered by your cabin rate) and sometimes for a fee, depending on where you find them or the specific activity. If you’ve been scratching your head, wondering whether ice cream, fruit juice and a good shvitz will cost you extra, check out our chart, which outlines some of the nuances of cruise fare inclusions. (--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor)




Worth the Splurge?


In the main dining room, Buffet and select specialty venues (such as Princess’ International Cafe; Carnival’s   Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ and Guy’s Burger Joint; Royal Caribbean’s Boardwalk Dog   House; NCL’s O’Sheehan’s and Blue Lagoon)

Alternative restaurants such as   Carnival’s steakhouses; HAL’s Pinnacle Grill; Princess’ Crown Grill and   Sabatini’s; Disney’s Remy charge up to $95 per person. Also, Royal Caribbean   offers for-fee items on its main dining room menus ($15 filet or $37.50 surf   ’n’ turf).

Perhaps -- with a variety of   dining fees from reasonable to outrageous, as well as different cuisines and   mealtime ambiences on offer, only you can make this call. You can certainly   eat quite well without paying extra, though main dining room and buffet   quality can vary.
  Check out editors’ picks of best cruise ship restaurants and the Cruisers’   Choice Awards winners for best cruise ships for dining.


In buffets as well as pizza   restaurants or stations on Royal Caribbean Carnival, Princess and Holland   America

Room-service delivery on Norwegian   and Princess, as well as in Norwegian’s Italian restaurants

Yes -- With all of Norwegian’s   for-fee dining venues, a large, tasty pizza for 5 bucks is a pretty good   deal.

Ice Cream

At the buffet, main dining room or   pool-deck soft-serve machines

At specialty ice cream venues such   as Celebrity’s Cafe Al Bacio Gelateria, Royal Caribbean’s Ben & Jerry’s   and Princess’ International Cafe

No -- unless you’re a true ice   cream connoisseur, the fee-free treats are just as yummy and refreshing on a   hot day.

Room Service

During the day on all ships, and   24 hours on most

Norwegian and Royal Caribbean   charge $3.95 per room service order delivered between midnight and 5 a.m.

No -- if you really need a snack   in the middle of the night, you can always drag yourself to a fee-free   24-hour dining venue. (One caveat: providing a small tip is the norm.)

Alcohol & Soda

Sparkling wine at embark   (Celebrity) and art auctions, certain special events like Disney’s Captain’s   Cocktail Party on certain sailings. Soda is included in the price on Disney   sailings.
  Check out 15 ways to get "free" (or cheaper) drinks at sea.

All alcoholic beverages and soft   drinks ordered in dining venues, bars and through room service

Yes -- if you enjoy a drink, it’s   silly to go on vacation and not drink at all. However, you can get the best   value with daily drink specials or happy hour deals or all-you-can-drink beverage packages.


Tap water

Bottled or sparkling water

No -- The tap water onboard is   high quality compared with what you’ll find in a bottle. At the very least,   buy bottled water in port where it will be much cheaper.

Coffee & Tea

Regular coffee and tea, ice tea

Specialty coffees and teas at   bars, cafes and dining venues

Yes -- If you’re used to hitting   Starbucks every morning, you might as well continue the trend onboard ...   especially as many report buffet coffee to be dire. On the other hand, you   could bring onboard a French press and your favorite coffee or tea and save   money.
  Get buzzed with our 12 favorite spots for coffee at sea.


Select juices available in the   buffet or in the main dining room at breakfast

Smoothies and specialty blended   fruit drinks, fresh squeezed OJ, juice ordered at onboard bars

No -- Why pay for juice when it’s   not spiked with alcohol? (Though we admit the freshly squeezed OJ is way   better than the watery stuff included in the fare.)


Most lines let you bring wine,   soda and bottled water onboard -- see our comprehensive run-down of cruise line alcohol policies for specific rules -- to   consume in your cabin.

Bring your own booze to the dining   room and you’ll be charged a $10 to $30 corkage fee.

No -- Unless you’re a true wine   aficionado, you will get better value drinking your own wine in the cabin and   ordering the ship’s beverages at dinner.


Main theater performances   (including Royal Caribbean’s ice skating and aqua-acrobatics shows; and NCL’s   Blue Man Group, Legends and Second City shows) and audience-participation   shows (such as the marriage game)

Norwegian’s Deal or No Deal costs   $19.95 per person to participate

No -- most of the best   entertainment stuff is actually fee-free. Catch our editors’ picks for the 6 best cruise lines for onboard entertainment   and the Cruisers’ Choice Awards winners for best at-sea entertainment


Trivia, pool games, dance classes

Bingo, casino play

No -- the likelihood of you   hitting the jackpot or winning the free cruise is pretty small. Better to   save your cash for a sure win.


Sports deck activities such as   basketball, rock climbing, mini golf, ropes courses, shuffleboard

Arcade games, golf simulator use

No -- though we make an exception   if 20 bucks will buy your family an hour of happiness and peace in the   arcade.


Sessions on shopping tips,   computer use and photography; cooking demos; port lectures

Hands-on cooking classes, wine and   liquor tastings, select computer classes on Celebrity

Yes -- If you see a class that   appeals, it’s worth the small fee to learn a new skill or do something you   love rather than just veg out on a sea day. Here are our picks for best cruise for enrichment.


Steam and sauna rooms within   locker rooms

All spa and salon treatments   (including medispa services, acupuncture, teeth whitening), thermal suite   passes

Perhaps -- Onboard spa treatments   are often more expensive than the massages and manicures you’d get at home.   But for your money, you will definitely be pampered -- if that’s something   you want -- especially at these top cruise ship spas.


Use of the fitness center (cardio   machines, weights) and some fitness classes like abs workouts and stretch   classes, as well as the jogging track and sports court (see Games)

Fitness classes (yoga, Pilates,   spinning, TRX, Zumba, etc.) and personal training and body assessments

Yes, with a caveat -- onboard   fitness classes can be cheaper than their land-based equivalents and a good   way to burn off those extra cruise calories. However, teachers can be hit or   miss, so value can vary greatly.

Sun Decks

Main pool use (including loungers   and hot tubs), waterslides and splash play areas; FlowRider onboard surfing   (Royal Caribbean); many adult-only pool or sun deck areas (like   Celebrity’s Solarium, Carnival’s Serenity)

Some lines charge for special   adults-only sun areas and cabanas (Princess’ Sanctuary, HAL’s Cabana Club,   Celebrity’s Lawn Club Alcoves)

No -- you can usually find   out-of-the-way sun deck space for free or make use of the balcony you already   paid for.


Group activities for 3 to 17 year   olds during the day

In-cabin babysitting, group   late-night babysitting after 10 p.m., nursery time for babies on Disney and   Royal Caribbean

Yes -- Parents, treat yourself to   a night or two of evening entertainment instead of whispering to each other   in your cabin while the kids snooze.

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Carnival Cruise Line Supplier Award
Celebrity Cruise Line Supplier Award
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Norweigian Cruise Line Supplier Award
Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line Supplier Award